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All truth passes through three stages.
Learn about them now.

Dare to be Different, and 9 Other Ways to Discover Your Artistic Voice

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but artists that never get past parroting the giants who came before them never get out of the “tribute-band” category of talent.

And artists who stay inside the comfortable, cozy doctrine they learned in technique training will never sound any different from all the artists who received the same training and went no farther.

Finding one’s voice means finding one’s own technique and aesthetic.

Successful artists develop their technique by going at the musical world like it’s a five-star buffet. They try everything and go back for seconds of the fare they love and spit out the stuff they don’t. They use all the flavors and textures to work out a unique sound. It’s personal to them and, by extension, personal to their fans and followers.

Technique is a means to an end. It is a tool. Technique liberates art and the more talent one has, the more technique one needs. But it’s meant to be learned and forgotten. The function of technique is to give an artist a starting point, freedom, and a safe place to work through a creative slump.

I have no regrets about my educational choices and given the opportunity likely would repeat them. But it has taken me years to get away from my programming and to find my unique voice.

How did that happen? One won’t find it in most educational environments. It’s the product of experimentation, personal meditation, assessment, and self-discovery.

Here are some tips I have found useful in discovering my own voice.

  1. What do you love? As Jung said, the creative mind plays with the objects it loves. Don’t approach answering this question, based on what you think you should love. No. What do you love? Joseph Campbell, the famed mythologist, would call this your bliss and he would encourage you to follow your bliss. What do you most like to think about? What gives you joy? What ideas do you like to play with? What thoughts cause you to lose track of time?

  2. Be who you wish to seem. Think about the type of artist you want to be and the audiences you want to play for. What will your medium be? Will you be politically oriented? Will you dedicate your energy to the classics? Will you serve as a bold visionary?

  3. Make choices. The blank canvas and the sheer number of choices available overwhelm many artists. It’s a buffet! Try something. If you don’t like it, spit it out and try something else. It you do like it, find something that pairs well with it.

  4. Know your history. All music, regardless of genre, has roots, and artists who don’t know theirs run the risk of earning a monkey-see, monkey-do reputation. If you know what has been done, you know if you are doing something new.

  5. Surrender the need to be right and good. Ibsen was not Ibsen, prior to years and years of personal development. Give yourself time to become great. Remember: There is no right and there is no wrong in art. There is only what you create. What you create today will likely be different from what you create tomorrow. So, forgive yourself if you appear to be an ugly duckling at first. Better still, don’t even care about it.

  6. Steal from greatness. Nobody creates on an island. Creativity is part nature and part nurture. There is nothing truly original and all ideas are a mixture of other people’s ideas, whether we consciously realize it or not. So, if you see your heroes doing something stunningly effective and you would like to play with that idea, choice, or medium, do it. Who are your heroes? What about them inspires you? If you are into a particular artist, what about that artist makes your heart race? Be specific. Make note.

  7. Dare to be great. Do what your art demands of you. Access your creative stream, whether it be crazy, dark, weird, sentimental, foreign, or whatever. Follow it without fear. Don’t judge your choices. There are plenty of people who will do that for you. Learn from reasonable critique, but don’t give an inch to the outrage mobs. Your artistic freedom depends on your refusing to self-censor to appease them. Courage!

  8. Synthesize your interests. Do you have numerous interests and talents? Do you find you struggle to dedicate your energies in just one area, which causes you to neglect your other interests or passions? Find ways to synthesize those varied interests. In doing so, you will feel more whole as an artist and person.

  9. Play with your ideas, as a child plays with a new toy. Experiment. Jump off the cliff and see what your ideas generate. But, if you are truly experimenting, know what the experiment is and use a scientific-type structure. Otherwise, you are just playing experiment.

  10. Allow your freak flag to fly. Apple disrupted the personal electronics industry at the turn of the century with the slogan, “Think different.” Different is unfamiliar, though, and people have to ease into it. The marketing term for the first is “innovators.” Then come the early adopters, early and late majorities, and then people who are still using rotary dial telephones. So, dare to be different, and give it time to become great.

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. —Arthur Schopenhauer

Finding your unique expression, form, medium or aesthetic as an artist will lead toward greater originality, potential innovation, potential happiness, and artistic satisfaction. More importantly, you just might contribute toward your culture and cultural forms in profound ways.

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